The Chicago Bears last off-season made a small investment in defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, signing the veteran to a one-year deal at the veteran minimun ($825,000).
That turned out to be a wise investment, as Jenkins outplayed expectations last year. He quickly earned the starting gig at 5-technique during training camp and the preseason, and played 636 snaps for the Bears in 2015, the most of any defensive lineman.
Jenkins made his presence felt immediately out of the gate, picking up 18 tackles and 3.5 sacks through the first six weeks of the regular season. His best game came in Week 4 against the Seattle Seahawks, in which he tallied 10 total tackles and 2.0 sacks.
Yet he cooled off considerably following the Week 7 bye. Through his final eight games, he totaled just 14 tackles and 0.5 sacks.
It was a tale of two seasons for the former second-round pick out of Clemson. Jenkins finished with career highs in tackles (32) and sacks (4.0). The latter was somewhat surprising as he had just 2.0 total sacks his first three years in the NFL with the Redskins. He also finished with 6 QB hits and 26 QB hurries, which led all Bears defensive linemen.
While he was a pleasant surprise as a pass rusher, Jenkins struggeld mightily at times against the run. At just 300 pounds, he's a bit undersized for a 3-4 defensive end and his lack of size hurt him against smashmouth rushing attacks. Against double teams, he was borderline worthless. He made a handful of strong plays against the run but he was wildly inconsistent overall.
Jenkins becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 9. Should GM Ryan Pace re-sign the four-year veteran?
At the correct price, this is a no-brainer: yes. If the Bears can land him again at or near the veteran minimum, there's no reason not to re-sign Jenkins, who was a team leader in Chicago's locker room last season.
Ideally, he's best suited as a rotational down lineman, as he just didn't show enough consistency last year to warrant being a three-down starter. But as a priority backup, Jenkins is a solid option for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio going forward.
The problem is that Jenkins may not be willing to take the veteran minimum. He's only 27 years old and is coming off his best season as a pro. He was a highly touted prospect coming out of college and is about to hit his prime. There are a lot of 3-4 teams that would love to have a 5-technique who can rush the passer and produce a handful of sacks. He becomes even more attractive as a free agent when you take into account his high character and leadership qualities.
Jenkins brings a lot to the table and may be looking to cash in on his above-average season. If that's the case, the Bears need to move on.
He's a decent player with intangibles but Jenkins is a borderline starter and probably won't justify a $2M-$3M contract.
He's a great depth option and a plus in the locker room but Pace shouldn't overpay him.